9 Non-traditional Thanksgiving Vacations to Take With Your Family—or by Yourself
The holidays are all about nostalgia and family custom, which usually translates to wading through airport security or making the never-ending drive to your in-laws’ house.
This Thanksgiving, consider throwing tradition out the (airplane) window and heading somewhere completely unexpected. Swap turkey for tamales, potatoes for poori, or snowy winter weather for snowy winter weather with geothermal hot springs.
Here are nine non-traditional Thanksgiving vacations to take with (or without) your family.
In American mythology, Thanksgiving started when English pilgrims shared a meal with their new neighbors, the Wampanoag tribe—the indigenous people mistaken as residents of India by misguided explorers. This Thanksgiving, have a bowl of beef curry and a rice biryani with the actual people who call Kerala home. The tropical province on the Arabian Sea is an idyllic dream with a bohemian, beachy vibe, deep history, and a culinary tradition that outdoes turkey and potatoes any day. Go tiger watching at the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary, visit Kochi’s Mattancherry Palace, explore the backwaters in Alappuzha, or simply sit on the palm-lined coast in Kovalam.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
The dry air and desert sun of Santa Fe may not have much in common with a New England Thanksgiving, but after traveling through a snowstorm, it may be time for a change of scenery. Grab a Thanksgiving meal at one of Santa Fe’s incredible restaurants, who serve up a holiday meal with a Santa Fe twist (think: local chiles in the sweet potatoes and Navajo blue corn cakes as a side). Skip Black Friday shopping and visit the Georgia O’Keefe Museum, head to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to ski, or stroll through the rose gardens of El Zaguán. Plus, if you’re hankering for a new tradition, plan a road trip to Pie Town, New Mexico, for a Thanksgiving slice of the town’s namesake dessert at Pie-O-Neer Pies.
November is not known for its clement weather and if there’s any country that knows what to do when the weather outside is frightful, it’s Iceland. Book a flight to Reykjavik for a long weekend of saunas, hot springs, and Super Jeeps. While you may be hard-pressed to find a traditional Thanksgiving dinner in Iceland, head to Grillmarkaðurinn, which serves local ingredients (lamb, minke whale) with a modern twist. Book a tour on the Golden Circle to see Iceland’s natural wonders, warm up inside a volcano or at the surreal Blue Lagoon—or embrace the cold and go for a Super Jeep ride to a glacier.
San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
Celebrate the pilgrims with a pilgrimage of your own to the Sanctuary of Atotonilco near San Miguel de Allende. The chapel at this World Heritage Site was elaborately painted by artist Antonio Martínez de Pocasangre (the project took 30 years, in total). His hard work earned the chapel the nickname of Mexico’s Sistine Chapel and the church is a brilliant example of Baroque art and architecture in the New World. Use your visit to give penance or to give thanks at the pilgrimage site. Contemplate your religious experience (or recover from your pilgrimage) at the spa at Hotel Matilda surrounded by lavender fields, vineyards, and art galleries in the colonial town of San Miguel de Allende.
Palo Duro Canyon, Texas
While the Mayflower Pilgrims may have landed at Plymouth Rock, some Texans strongly believe that the first Thanksgiving was actually held in Canyon, Texas. According to the Texas Almanac, Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado and his travel companion, Fray Juan De Padillo, celebrated a feast of Thanksgiving with members of the local Teyas tribe way back in 1541. There’s even a plaque outside of Palo Duro Canyon State Park to prove it. Spend Thanksgiving weekend visiting Texas’s answer to the Grand Canyon, and enjoying the wonders of nature without the hoards of tourists. Rent a cabin on the canyon’s rim, go horseback riding, visit the nearby Buffalo Lake National Wildlife Refuge, try and catch a show of the world-famous outdoor musical, “TEXAS,” and explore the historic cattle town of Amarillo.
The Cotswolds, England
Make the Pilgrims’ journey in reverse and head to England for your holiday break. London has a lot to offer—including many restaurants serving American Thanksgiving menus—but make the most of the holiday weekend by heading to the country. Hop the train to Cheltenham for a bucolic respite in the rolling hills of the English countryside. Book a room at the Big Sleep or Cowley Manor as home base or rent a private estate for ultimate privacy. Spend the long weekend exploring the villages like Tetbury or Bibury and you’ll quickly see why the British government designated this 790-square mile swath of green hills, farms, and hedgerows as an official “Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.” Make the most of the your trip by sitting down for a farm-to-table feast at one of the restaurants helping to redefine country cuisine in England.
New Orleans, Louisiana
While New Orleans cuisine may be more closely associated with po’boys and beignets, the city also helped popularize one of the most delicious Thanksgiving dishes ever: the turducken. Turkey, duck, and chicken are stuffed together into an entree that goes well with gravy and pie; it’s been a staple of some holiday tables since NFL great John Madden started carving one up on camera during a Thanksgiving football game back in 1997. Its history goes back much further than that, though, and there’s no better place to explore it than over a long weekend in New Orleans, one of T+L’s best cities in the world. Eat your way through the French Quarter, watch the Bayou Classic Thanksgiving Day Parade, explore the literary history of the Crescent City, sip a Sazerac at the Columns Hotel, get in the holiday spirit with the light show at the Celebration in the Oaks, or simply do as the locals do and laissez les bon temps rouler.
Maine is yet another contender in the ongoing contest to see which location gets the title of hosting the nation’s first Thanksgiving. According to the Smithsonian, some historians believe that the Popham Colony in Maine conducted a Thanksgiving service in 1607, years before those more-famous Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. Unfortunately, the Popham Colony failed in their quest to establish a foothold in the New World and was forgotten to history until recently. Make up for lost time by returning to Maine to celebrate Thanksgiving, near the colony’s site about 25 miles northeast of Portland at the mouth of the Kennebec River. To pay homage, drive up from Portland, stay at the charming two-room Marston House in nearby Wiscasset, or hitch a ride on the mail boat through Casco Bay. The perfect day: dive into a lobster feast, hit the Portland Art Museum, and explore the city’s shops, galleries, and breweries.
Whether you want to spend your vacation lounging on the beach in Bodrum, cruising the Bosphorus, touring the ruins at Ephesus, or taking in the sites in Istanbul, you’ll never regret trading your Butterball dinner for a vacation in Turkey. If you opt for a vibrant, urban vacation in Istanbul, stroll through the city’s Grand Bazaar, visit the Dolmabahçe Palace, tour Topkapi Palace, pay homage at the iconic Blue Mosque, and explore the Old City. If you’re looking for a beach vacation, head to Alacati to explore the best of the Aegean’s coast with world-class windsurfing, beautiful beaches, and plenty of outdoor cafés to sip a glass of local wine and give thanks for your decision to pass up one more year with the in-laws.